SF Tuolumne diversions irk farmers, environmentalists

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat

A Fresno nonprofit group is suing the National Park Service in federal court over the city and county of San Francisco's diversions from the Hetch Hetchy water project.

The Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability, or CESAR, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., alleging NPS-approved freshwater diversions from the Tuolumne River are harmful to endangered and threatened salmon, smelt and sturgeon in the San Joaquin River and Sacramento Delta, where the water would naturally flow if it wasn't being stored behind O'Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

The lack of water sent down the Tuolumne River also places additional pressure on farmers who rely on water from the federally operated Central Valley Project. Billions of gallons of water are released each year from the CVP's dams to aid fish in the Delta.

About 265,000 acre-feet of water per year - about 15 percent of the Tuolumne River's natural flow - is taken out of the TuolumnebySan Francisco and channeled into a 167-mile-long aqueduct that traverses California's Central Valley. About 2.6 million Bay Area residents and about 3,300 Groveland area residents rely on the Hetch Hetchy system for drinking water.

The complaint is seeking a court order to halt all diversions until the NPS consults with regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and completes an environmental impact study to ensure that the Hetch Hetchy project's operations aren't harming the fish.

Plaintiffs listed in the complaint are CESAR and one individual, Jean Sagouspe, of Los Banos, who owns farmland that receives irrigation water from the Central Valley Project.

The complaint claims that the plaintiffs are suffering "irreparable injury" to their educational, aesthetic and scientific interest in the aforementioned fish species, as well as their economic interests "by reason of cutbacks in their irrigation water resulting from" the upstream water diversion.

For the complete story, see the Aug. 22 edition of The Union Democrat.

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